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Alvares, Manuel, 1526-1583, et al. / Ethiopia Minor and a geographical account of the Province of Sierra Leone : (c. 1615)

Chapter 6: The idol and oracle of Benle and Togma, and the nature of this superstition,   pp. 1-4

Page 4

mask.  He gets this name from the mask, because a mask of this kind 4   
called aran.  But this one has only two eyes. Behind him comes the
Great Aran, marching with great pomp /f.68v/ and ceremony and holding in
each hand a drawn sword, with which he makes a thousand thrusts and wild
movements.  When the procession has left the forest and reached the
village, various wild dances and movements are made in the arrifal, that
is, in the central open place, and music and mock fights are performed.
All of the Benles may see these happenings.  (But) they attack those who
are not Benles, and chase them back to their homes. When these buffoons 
go about naked, as they are in the habit of doing in the secret places of
the forest, anyone who comes across them and falls into their hands is in
trouble.  For they consider it an abomination to be seen with nothing on,
and they go about wearing only the same straw decorations they wear when
they bury their Great Aran or Superior General. Men as well as women, r
they cover thenr faces with dust or flour-paste, and all of them carry
in their hands at this time brooms made of palm canes, which they employ
in making their gestures. Once the feast in the village is ended, they
return to the forest where they lay down their festal ornaments. If
anyone of them, moved by natural affection, wishes to lament for a dead
Benle, in the way customary with the Togxnas, he can seek permission from
the Superior, who will give him permission if he pays for it.
Benles do not make use of (the ceremony of carrying) biers round the
villages in order to discover who has 'eaten' a dead man, and hustling ther
bier wherever they fancy.  Some of their archbishops, that is Great Arans,
are important enough to be responsible for whole groups or kingdoms.  The
form used for the burial of these most important people is the same as
that for the burial of all other members of the society.  They take with
them only objects woven from nachul straw.  When a Great Aran dies, he is
succeeded by the eldest of his brothers. If there is no-one of his own
family to succeed, one of the other members of the society takes his placei
The terms Benle and Cangulo are titles and imply rank, like our term
'Archbishop'. These people have no fixed feast days. According to the
number of deaths they have in a year, whether more or less, they have
that number of feasts.  If a Benle dies in the village they burn the
village to purge this great sin, since they consider that an inhabited
place in which one of them dies becomes and remains polluted, as it were.
To avoid this, they carry members into the forest when they are ill. Therx
is no other reason for this belief than that the devil so instructed the
founders and inventors of this diabolical. society. /f.69/. r'


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